The head of the Financial Services Development Council, Laura Cha Shih May-lung, apologized yesterday for contradicting herself on whether the new entity will accept private donations or not.
The council will not accept any outside financial aid, she said.
She also clarified the council - a key plank in Chief Executive Leung Chun- ying's election platform - will be a public body.
After the council's first meeting yesterday, Cha apologized to reporters for earlier comments that it was a "private entity."
Her past comments, she admitted, had sparked much public debate on the nature of the council.
"I was responding to a reporter's question on what basis could the FSDC lobby mainland government ministries. I meant to say that we would be a 'non- official body' and 'non-statutory body,' but instead I said 'private entity,'" said the veteran investment banker, explaining her gaffe.
She stressed the council will be a non-profit organization operating under the Financial Services and the Treasury Bureau.
"The council has no administrative function or power. It is not a policy making bureau nor a regulator, and it is not a sovereign fund," she stressed.
As for whether the council could be set up in the form of a company limited by guarantee, she said so far this is just a suggestion. "We are open to opinion on how it should be formed."
The council has caused much confusion and sparked worries it would develop conflicts of interest with other government departments.
On its inception on January 17, financial policy chief Ceajer Chan Ka- keung said the council should be self- funded in the long run, while Cha said it could consider taking donations from universities and the private sector.
The next day, the government revealed the council will be a public body as defined by the Anti Corruption Ordinance and will be subject to legal scrutiny.
To further dispel any doubt, Cha said yesterday: "The council at this stage has no plan to accept donations or raise funds from private organizations."
She added in the first three years, the council's secretariat will be seconded from the government, with one employee each borrowed from the Hong Kong Monetary Authority, Securities and Futures Commission and the Trade Development Council.
But she stopped short of giving details of how the council will be funded after the initial three-year period, saying the members need time to figure that out.
Another concern about the council is that its 22-member board is comprised mainly of heavyweight mainland business people, including Zhu Yunlai, son of former premier Zhu Rongji and chief executive of Chinese Investment Corp, and Bank of China International deputy chief executive Tse Yung-hoi.
Most organizations represented in the board are owned by the central government.
Cha said 20 people attended the council's first meeting yesterday, with one absentee connected on the phone. Leung also sat in at the conference.
She said members agreed the council will focus on five subject areas, namely financial services development, opportunities on the mainland, new businesses, market promotion and human resource development.